Lesser Goes for Lt. Gov., Successors Look to Line up behind Him…
After months of speculation, Longmeadow Senator Eric Lesser has taken the plunge and will pursue statewide office. On Tuesday, he announced he was running for lieutenant governor becoming the fourth Democratic candidate in a race that could become more crowded. However, he joins the race with advantages that may overcome his late entry.
Lesser’s exit from the state senate also opens his sprawling district. Though it expanded after the Census, it remains heavily Democratic and could draw comers from all over. Contenders could include a sitting state rep, local officials and former political staffers. This race may stand in stark contrast to the other open senate race in the 413, also available due to an LT bid.
“The status quo doesn’t work for anybody,” Lesser said in a statement to supporters. While noting the commonwealth’s strengths, Massachusetts’s costs and degrading infrastructure had become a burden to residents despite its progressive cred.
Turning to the role of the lieutenant governor, he continued, “What I bring is the perspective of a parent of three young children, the experience of living far from Beacon Hill, and a proven record of standing up for the forgotten corners of Massachusetts.”
Lesser, his wife and their kids live in Longmeadow.
The senator joins a Democratic field that consists of Boston businessman Bret Bero, Acton Rep Tami Gouveia and Pittsfield Senator Adam Hinds. The field could grow larger still as Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll looks likely to run. Dan Koh, chief of staff to US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh—and once Walsh’s mayoral-CoS—could enter the race, too.
Still circumstances have changed even from a few months ago. Governor Charlie Baker is not seeking reelection and his lieutenant, Karyn Polito, is also out.
Hinds has said his campaign was not contingent on others, but he observed last month that two candidates from the 413 likely means neither can consolidate the region. Therefore, either will have to build out much further to secure victory.
After touring the state since summer and announcing in October, Hinds may have the foundation to survive the Democratic convention. Candidates will need to win at least 15% of delegates there to advance to the September primary.
Lesser has served in the Senate twice as long as Hinds and could draw on his resources and Obama-era rolodex to persevere through the convention and the primary. A bag wrangler for former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, Lesser served as the assistant to White House senior advisor David Axelrod. Now the director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, Axelrod tweeted out a Boston Globe story on Lesser’s LT announcement.
As a senior adviser in @BarackObama's White House, I needed a brilliant aide & chose a promising young campaign staffer named @EricLesser. He went on to become a standout state senator & today, he joins race for lieutenant govenor.
MA could not do better!https://t.co/GqyiXMW2gW
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) January 4, 2022
Lesser won his seat in 2014, overcoming two candidates in a year his party lost the governor’s office. However, the primary was by far more difficult. In that tense contest for the nomination, Lesser had four rival. One led a charge to turf him from the ballot by alleging he did not meet residency requirements.
Starting off in the larger population center of Western Massachusetts will probably help Lesser, too. His announcement touted his work on COVID-19, opiates and the Student Bill of Rights. A member of the legislature’s COVID-19 oversight committee, he grilled Baker and his health & human services secretary after they botched the early roll out of the vaccine.
The senator is likely best-known for advocating for rail service from the 413 to Boston. Concrete action had at times languished. The legislature and state Department of Transportation have dragged their feet, but Lesser and rail supporters have been adamant. The federal infrastructure bill and fresh MassDOT actions show the effort is, ahem, on track.
Yet, Hinds has nabbed endorsements from Western Mass Senate colleagues Jo Comerford, Anne Gobi and Adam Gomez per Hinds’s campaign. Several current and former Valley mayors are with the Pittsfield Democrat, too. Among the state reps backing Hinds are Mindy Domb, Lindsey Sabadosa and Jake Oliveira.
Oliveira, a freshman rep from Ludlow, is among those looking at Lesser’s seat.
Redistricting largely kept Lesser’s 1st Hampden & Hampshire district intact. Renamed the Hampden Hampshire & Worcester District (HH&W), in 2022 it will take on Palmer, South Hadley and Warren while trading territory in Chicopee and Springfield with an adjoining district. Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow, and Wilbraham remain in the HH&W.
Though only in his first term in the State House, Oliveira, 35, has been a fixture of Ludlow politics since joining its School Committee in 2009. Most expected him to jump into the race if Lesser departed.
In an interview, he noted that he was still working for his House district. Oliveira noted he had brought back $4 million for his district, more than any other first-year rep he said. However, the Ludlow Democrat, who once lobbied on behalf of state universities, was hardly coy about his interest and the opportunity to focus on policy.
“After looking at the seat, looking at my current rep district and talking with my family, I know I can serve the people of this newly configured senate district that includes three new communities to build upon the successes I have already had the in house,” Oliveira said in an interview.
However, other could be in the mix, too. Sydney Levin-Epstein of Longmeadow has worked for candidates from Georgia to Massachusetts, namely US Senators Jon Ossoff and Ed Markey. More recently, she managed the state senate campaign of Anthony D’Ambrosio, a Revere School Committee member who unsuccessfully ran against Boston City Council Lydia Edwards in a special election last month.
Levin-Epstein, who has worked on Lesser’s campaigns, expressed excitement for his lieutenant governor bid and confirmed she was thinking about the race.
“It’s amazing to see how much he has accomplished since taking office,” she said of Lesser in a text. “I’m considering taking a close look at this unique opportunity, but I haven’t made a decision.”
Levin-Epstein may not have her hometown to herself. Longmeadow Selectboard Member Marc Strange has eyed a Senate bid as well. Sources says Strange is “strongly considering it.”
The brewing interest contrast to Hinds’s Senate seat in the Berkshire. So far, Peru State Rep Paul Mark is the only serious name in contention to succeed Hinds.
Back in the Pioneer Valley, the Republican side is less clear. A candidate could emerge from ancestrally or increasingly GOP areas like East Longmeadow or Palmer, but none have yet.
Eight years ago in late 2013, Gale Candaras, Lesser’s predecessor, announced she might retire. Then-East Longmeadow Select Board member Deb Boronski quickly said she would run if Candaras bailed. Sure enough, when Candaras began an ultimately unsuccessful bid for county office, Boronski became the race’s only GOP aspirant. By contrast, no names erupted from the Republican earth when Lesser’s LT speculation flared anew in December.
Unlike eight years ago, the GOP will not have its statewide standard-bearer, Charlie Baker.
Down ticket races were already hard for Republicans and redistricting did not help. South Hadley weighted Lesser’s senate district even more Democratic despite the addition of Palmer and Warren. The rep districts are no better. For example Oliveira’s rep district, which he narrowly won in 2020, became much bluer, taking on more of Belchertown and the Quabbin region.
Even if the national political environment is poor for Democrats, it could be comparatively good in Massachusetts. Whether the current gubernatorial contenders—Harvard professor Danielle Allen and Boston Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz—or Attorney General and not-yet-gubernatorial-candidate Maura Healey are the nominee, Dems could do very well here in November.
Lesser’s own connections in Washington and Los Angeles—he one consulted on scripts for Veep—could help his party’s ticket if he is on it. However, the lieutenant governor runs on a ticket with his or her party’s gubernatorial nominee. Whether Lesser, Hinds or somebody else wins the Democratic nomination, their fortunes eventually turn on those of the nominee for governor.